Monday, September 8, 2014

Happy First Birthday, Ada!

Ada at one year! 

My dearest Ada (Ada-bean, Ada-beta, Ada-boo, Bean-bob, Beanie-B, Beebee)

Well, I am late with your first birthday letter. This is in part because I started back to work right after your birthday, but it’s mainly because this letter has been hard to write.

Why, you ask? Well, I’m not totally sure myself, but I think it’s mostly because you are an amazing and enigmatic creature, the likes of which I had not had the pleasure of knowing as a mother until you came along, and trying to put into words what it has been like to be your mother is one of the hardest writing tasks I’ve ever had.

You are such a mystery, dear one, so much so that it’s almost impossible even to explain why. And this both challenges me and charms me—as difficult as it has been for me to so frequently be at a loss to figure out why you are crying (and you cry a lot, my love) and how to help you, it has also been absolutely enchanting to witness the way that your little spirit, your face, your look, your voice, somehow commands a room (and I don’t mean because you are loud, although you are!). There are few things that delight me more than when your face breaks from its normal, serious, peering-down-the-nose-over-the-glasses observation of the world into a grin the likes of which I’m not sure how we ever lived without before we saw it.

I remember once when we were out and about somewhere, a kind woman heard and saw you in passing, and she remarked to me, “That one is determined.” And I said, “You have no idea how right you are.” “Determined” is certainly one appropriate word to describe you—you have been set in your ways since the day you were born. It took your brother and sister a good while to get to the point where they had clear opinions about things, but you have been spirited and opinionated, and yes, determined to get what you want since first we met, it seems.

But here’s the thing, dear one. It’s not your job to be the person anyone else wants you to be, hopes you will be, expects you to be, or thinks you are. It’s your job to be the person that you are and to be the best possible you.

Before you were born, after your dad and I decided to call you “the dolphin,” I bought a beautiful piece of wall art for your room. Hopefully you will still have it by the time you read this letter. It’s a hand-drawn dolphin made up of hundreds of beautifully colored flowers, and underneath the dolphin is the message “Be Wild and Free.”

And there it is. Before you were even born, I was encouraging you, maybe even challenging you, to be your own person, to be wild, to be free. And clearly you have risen to that challenge. And I couldn’t be prouder, Ada. I don’t really know what is in store for us in the future. If you are as hard-headed as a kid and a teenager as you have been as a baby (and sweet girl, even though your infancy has been hard for me, I really do mean that as a compliment), then I imagine we’ll have our share of rough days. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: I was really hard-headed, too. And my mom and I had our share of rough days, too. We survived. I hope you and I will do more than survive, but I know we’ll at least survive.

You just be you, you hear? Don’t ever let anyone tell you to stop speaking your mind or to be anyone other than you. Ever. And no matter what, I will love and accept you for exactly who you are.

You started half-day preschool with your brother two weeks ago, just a little after your actual birthday. I started back to work full-time the same day, and a new babysitter picked you up for the afternoons. And much to my (very pleasant) surprise, you were amazing through it all. Even two weeks later, you have not cried, not even once, at drop-off or any other time, except once when they wouldn’t give you more bananas at breakfast. Because hello? Ada. And food. Do not get between them.

You don’t cry at all (and don’t get the wrong impression, sweet girl—crying is just fine, and it’s sometimes just what we all need to work out whatever we are trying to work out). Until I get home. When I come to the door at 5:30, as soon as you see me, you SQUAWK with excitement, but if I don’t immediately take you into my arms, you burst into tears. And once I do take you into my arms, if I try to put you down again, you burst into tears, even when you’ve been fussing and struggling to get down. And I don’t mean just your average little fake one-year-old fuss. I mean a throw-yourself-onto-the-floor-and-bury-your-face-in-your-arms kind of cry. And then, when I pick you back up, you keep right on crying and often nothing will soothe you.

I admit, dear one, that I have found this a tad bit vexing, even as I understand the deep impulse and longing for your mother from which it stems. (That is why you’re crying, right?) 

The other day when this happened, when you struggled to get out of my arms but then threw an absolute fit when I actually put you down, here’s what I did. I sat down on the floor next to you and told you that I was right there if you needed me. You kept throwing your fit, and I kept saying, “I’m here, sweetie.”

Because here’s the other thing, baby girl. One of the two most important things, along with “no matter what, I will love and accept you for who you are.”

Here’s the other thing:

I will always be here for you. No matter what. Always. Nothing you ever do will ever change that. I may not always be here for you in the ways that you want me to or the ways that you think I should—sometimes picking you back up is the wrong thing, even though it may be what you think you want. But I will always, always be here for you.

Read one way, these lines from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” could have been written for you, Ada:

I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable;
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

I hear you, darling. I see you, my girl. I am listening. I am working on translating. You keep right on yawping. The world awaits.

I love you endlessly.